Feb 25, 2014

As fossil fuels rule with an iron fist, renewables flapping in the wind

Wind farms have been shown to have no ill health effects, but that won't stop the anti-renewables lobby from repeating the furphy that they are bad for your health. All in all, it's a bad time to be in the business of clean energy.

Just one hour after the National Health and Medical Research Council had given a clean bill of health to the nation’s wind farms, Fairfax websites published this story: around 25,000 face masks are being distributed to residents in Morwell and Traralgon to filter out ash and smoke from the fire at the Hazelwood coal mine.

Nothing could better highlight the current absurdity of Australia’s energy debate. As fossil fuels continue to burn and pollute, a witch-hunt accommodated and encouraged by the new Abbott government has brought the large-scale renewable energy industry to a halt, and it could close it down entirely. Small-scale renewables, such as rooftop solar and energy efficiency schemes, are also under attack.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

21 thoughts on “As fossil fuels rule with an iron fist, renewables flapping in the wind

  1. klewso

    What do you expect from a fossilised government?

  2. Geoff Russell

    NHMRC giving wind a clean bill of health is much the same as UNSCEAR giving nuclear a clean bill of health. It doesn’t necessarily stop the fear mongers working their magic and making people sick with worry. It’s always interesting how the anti-nuclear lobby loves to quote official sources when it suits them and rubbish them when it doesn’t.

    But the renewable investment panic may end up being a blessing in disguise.

    The latest IEA figures don’t include December yet, but the YTD figures for Germany, which has been doing it’s level best to build renewables ASAP shows that the 2013 output is below the 2012 output. IE, the much lauded “exponential” growth is done and they can’t even manage to hold ground. And guess what coal is booming.

    The German “renewable revolution” added renewables at about 1/5 the rate of the French nuclear build and it’s already running out of puff and burning 1/2 its timber harvest in an assault on its forests that is tragic. I kind of understand the enthusiasm for solar and wind, but how often and comprehensively do they have to fail before people say “enough”? $2.2 billion for Ivanpah solar or $16 billion for UK nuclear build at Hinkley Point C? How obvious can something be? You’d have to build 25 x Ivanpahs to match the output (that’s $55 billion) of the nukes and you’d have to build them twice because the nukes will run for 60 years. Renewables are simply to slow, too expensive and too environmentally destructive.

    And if you can’t afford the Hinkley dollars, you can buy the Chinese/South Korean versions at about half the cost.

  3. Aidan Stanger

    Build cost isn’t everything. Solar and wind have a lower running cost than nuclear, and a much lower running cost than fossil fuels.

  4. Electric Lardyland

    I’m still waiting for an Australian journalist to ask Abbott the obvious question; “When are you going to develop the honesty and integrity, to tell the Australian people, that you don’t actually believe in the science of climate change?”

  5. AR

    If the recent announcement that electricity prices will rise for domestic users due to the future closure of Alcoa doesn’t give everyone with half a brain a bad case of cognitive dissonance they were are indeed, to put it in technical terms, fucked.
    I thought that I was listening to a satirical skit when I heard some flack aver that the generators AND retailers have enormous fixed costs which must be financed.
    That’s the crux of the matter, the point of the gold plating of the distribution system to make them attractive to privatisation (the costs having already been socialised)but only with a capitve market, so comprehensively threatened by PhV, solar hot water and reduced usage.

  6. Geoff Russell

    Aidan: Sure, uranium might add 5% over 25 years. But for me the big issue isn’t actually costs, worrying about costs in the face of climate change is like worrying about hospital costs when your appendix has ruptured. We need a solution and fast, so the big issue is build speed and renewables are just glacial … witness our wasted decade with rooftop solar and witness the historical rollout speed of nuclear:
    We could have had a few reactors running or close and instead all we have is a million solar rooftops (woopee!)

    The environmental cost of renewables is also horrible … covering wildlife habitat in concrete/steel/mirrors and using biomass as either backup or baseload (as proposed by AEMO 100% renewable study and as is happening in Germany now). We need to be rolling back deforestation not starting up new slash and burn industries or removing valuable crop residues to run down soil quality.

    (http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/06/11/renewable-electricity-nirvana/ and http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/issue-4/harmonic-destruction)

  7. Electric Lardyland

    Well put, AR, I thought you might be interested in this Bill McKibben article, addressing another crux of the matter.


  8. Ted Parker

    We have lived off grid (solar) for 5 years very comfortably with all mod cons thanks. You can just scale it up as much as you like to run whatever you like but the will isn’t there and also deniers don’t like it, they would rather burn something.

  9. Aidan Stanger

    Geoff Russell #6
    If you could convince everyone else of the problem then cost wouldn’t be the biggest issue, though there would still be two reasons to treat it as pretty big: firstly, no matter how big the problem is, there will always be some people who don’t care. Secondly even if there were a consensus on taking immediate and effective action, the economy would suffer if it wasn’t done efficiently.

    It is nuclear, not solar, that has a glacial build speed. It takes several years to plan and build a reactor. That’s several years when its output is zero, whereas there’s no technical reason why solar couldn’t double its output within a year. Cost (especislly to homeowners who don’t have much money) is the biggest barrier to solar, but nuclear has additional technical obstructions.

    The cost of nuclear power is a lot more than just the uranium. It is expensive to staff, and expensive to manage the waste. And a 60 year running life is quite optimistic.

    The environmental cost of renewables is overstated. Wildlife below them beforehand can usually continue afterwards, and the value of straw for soil wuality really isn’t that great. The best way to reverse deforestation is to ensure planting of More trees is economically viable. And there’s also the option of pyrolysis which turns the crop residue into gas (one obvious use of which it to burn to generate power) and inorganic carbon (with other nutrients included) which is a great soil improver.

    Nuclear energy has a great future globally, but in Australia with our sunny conditions and low demand density, renewables can outperform it. But to make it so, we must ensure that those who want to install it get the cheap credit needed in order for it to make financial sense.

  10. Mark Duffett

    It is nuclear, not solar, that has a glacial build speed. It takes several years to plan and build a reactor.

    You’re missing Geoff’s point about scale. These things are not equivalent. Good luck trying to build 25 x 392 MW concentrating solar thermal plants (i.e. Ivanpahs) in ‘several years’.

    And far from being optimistic, 60 years reactor lifetime for modern designs could well be on the conservative side. 80 years is entirely reasonable: aps.org/publications/apsnews/201312/apsreport.cfm

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details